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I accepted a PhD offer from a major public research university in the US this year. However, turns out that the university makes students compete for funding and try to join a group in the first month of the first year. So my POI's chose different students and were not able to take me in. So I decided not to continue and withdraw (After 1 month of enrollment) before wasting my time and theirs. Now the university is asking me to pay back the tuition waiver guaranteed by the sham RA position. I cannot request a transcript to show to schools I am applying to this year unless I pay 20k dollars. Any suggestions on what to do in this bait-and-switch situation? The transcript only shows a 1-hour seminar with a grade of W and does not show GPA. should I just hide the fact that I went to this scam of a place or just show them proof that I withdrew in the place of the transcript.

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    I do not think this question can be answered without precise details of what was promised to you in writing before enrolment and what actually happened after. The use of emotionally loaded language ("make students fight for funding") does not help either. Sometimes competition for limited funds in natural and is expected; sometimes it is not. From your description, we can't tell. – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 5 '19 at 19:56
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    The statement on the admission letter states that I was admitted with a tuition waiver and stipend contingent upon the availability of funds and is renewable every year. Turns out the two professors I wanted to work with had no funding. So I was left with the option of paying out of pocket for the next years (TA was not guaranteed) or just cut my losses and leave. Now the university says that I must pay for this term since I withdrew and the RA ship waiver was removed even though I had no assigned advisor the whole time. – Lima m Nov 5 '19 at 20:07
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    I always hear "contingent upon the availability of funds" from many admitted which I assume universities use to deny responsibility if they had to drop a student but I did not know they could use it to hold a student hostage. – Lima m Nov 5 '19 at 20:25
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    Regarding the stipend, if the terms you describe are right, they can leave you hanging. You knew funding would be contingent, as scummy as that is. However, upon your determination to withdraw, I don't know whether they can demand you pay that semester's tuition. Students who withdraw may still have to pay tuition - that depends on university policy. That said, there may be a legal argument available, and I'd advise talking with a legal counsel who can make themselves familiar with your exact situation. – TaliesinMerlin Nov 5 '19 at 20:36
  • First of all, it takes enormous courage to assess the situation, cut your losses, and be ready to move on in just a month - congratulations. That being said, I'd urge you to retrospect whether you are being impulsive. Unfortunately, uncertainty in status/roadmaps is quite common in academia and you'll have to learn to accept and navigate those situations anywhere you continue your career. Note that I'm not implying you made a mistake, just suggesting to honestly and objectively assess the situation, while weeding out false promises and skewed truths as much as possible. – user3209815 Nov 7 '19 at 7:17
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Now the university is asking me to pay back the tuition waiver guaranteed by the sham RA position.

Don't do that. US universities should not ask students to repay tuition wavers. Maybe if the student committed fraud, but not because of withdrawal.

I cannot request a transcript to show to schools I am applying to this year

In your application, say "I want to study X. Previously I enrolled at the University of Y with the expectation that I would study X. I found out after one month that it was not possible for me to study X there, so I withdrew as early as possible."

Next time know which group you will be working in before you enroll. If the university will not let you join a group at the time of enrollment, find a different university.

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    > US universities should not ask students to repay tuition wavers. --- is it a legal requirement, or simply your wishful thinking? – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 5 '19 at 23:00
  • @DmitrySavostyanov As you said, "this question can be answered without precise details of what was promised to you in writing" if you want a legal answer. I think an ethical answer is sufficient. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 5 '19 at 23:32
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    I hope the ethical answer will satisfy the university too. Otherwise if the OP follows your advice, and the university pursues the money they think OP owes, OP may be in legal trouble over it. – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 5 '19 at 23:59
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If you can't afford it, you can't afford it. Do not lie to another school, just tell them the truth, without the words "sham" and "bait-and-switch" etc.

Tell them you attended for one month and withdrew, and can prove that, but there is now a dispute over tuition, which you thought was waived. They want you to pay 20K, which you are contesting, so they will not send you a transcript for the one course you signed up for and dropped after a month. Also tell them there will be no grade for that course, you formally withdrew, and that is all the transcript would say.

Lying to a new school will get you into trouble THERE too. Be honest, with just the facts, so they can't say you kept this a secret from them.

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    Agreed on the honesty front. My Uni awarded research funding to a student who purposefully omitted that they had dropped out of another PhD programme previously. When that came out the funding and the admission offer were retracted. If the application asks and you omit, it's a lie and unis treat it as such. – GrotesqueSI Nov 6 '19 at 7:34

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